Best Adapted Screenplay, 2000
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of those movies.)

Robert Nelson Jacobs


Miramax, due to its literate, indie-cred reputation, does well in the Screenplay derbies. To wit: The Crying Game, The Piano, Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, and The Cider House Rules have all emerged victorious in the span of just eight years. Chocolat, which won enough fans to secure a surprise Best Picture nod, is Miramax's clear analog in this year's races for those past high-profile entrants.

Most of those trophies were for Original Screenplay, where offbeat and witty mean more than in Adapted Screenplay, where earnest and high-minded tend to count for more (see Traffic). Chocolat can't possibly pretend, even to its rosiest advocates, to have a single scene we haven't scene a million times before, while the other nominees here are simultaneously more fresh and more forceful.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,
Wang Hui-Ling, James Schamus, and Tsai Kuo-Jung

Clearly the most widely loved of the five nominated films, given its ten nominations. Crouching Tiger offers a dazzling mixture of myth, romance, action, and homily, making it more tonally ambitious and varied than the other pictures in this race. I have learned by now not to underestimate Crouching Tiger's chances among any of the Academy branches, precedents be damned . . .
. . . though, at the same time, the Subtitling Factor has worked against even Oscar's most beloved foreign films (Life Is Beautiful, for example). Plus, many voters may think that the corny translations and stone-faced spiritual prophecies they're reading in the subtitles are evidence not of generic convention but of unpersuasive writing. Plenty of chances to confer gold on Lee's film without doing so in this particular category.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?,
Joel and Ethan Coen

Easily the most puzzling nominee in this category since Kenneth Branagh earned a nod for not altering a single line in 1996's Hamlet. The Coen Brothers' feat is the opposite one—they've reconfigured Homer's Odyssey beyond all but passing recognition—but, speaking of 1996, when Fargo won the Original Screenplay prize, the Coens' audacity as scripters clearly has its appeal.
Frankly, the reason the Odyssey looks so weird in this movie is that the Coens, at least by their admission, never read it. That claim may be coy press-conference posturing, but even if it is, it gets to the heart of the real reason they won't win: these hucksters, who write strange, sometimes distancing films with bizarre verbal patterns and no honest declaration about their origins (was Fargo true?) have already copped one trophy. They aren't going to win two.
Stephen Gaghan

Two attributes of Traffic will help distinguish the profile of its screenplay above those of its competitors. First, the intermingling of three separate plotlines, regardless of whether the device always works (and it mostly does) will confer on the film a perceived degree of difficulty higher than that associated with a film about bonbons. Also, the obvious social relevance, a promise for once intelligently fulfilled, will make a vote here seem like a constructive, conscience-soothing gesture. This is Traffic's best shot for a win, and no one wants to see it shut out. Writers Guild Award also a good augury.
Certainly the film, despite its five nominations, did not flower into the Oscar juggernaut that many were predicting around the time it captured the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Picture. Crouching Tiger, for example, seems to have more momentum with voters. Still, Gaghan won the screenwriting Golden Globe even as Traffic's Picture and Director hopes were dashed, so its chances in this race don't seem seriously derailed.
Wonder Boys,
Steve Kloves

Writers have been among Wonder Boys' biggest supporters since its theatrical debut over a year ago. Even while its higher Academy aspirations have come to no fruition, the screenplay, from the reclusive but well-regarded Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys), has held on to its positive buzz for getting a quirky novel about intelligent characters on screen in uncompromised form.
A lot of people who have rented and written about Wonder Boys since it popped up on so many critics' Top Ten lists have been going, "Huh?" The story is so shaggy and understated that it's had a hard time catching on with a broad audience, even though those are the very qualities that endear the film to its fans. The shutout of the film and of Michael Douglas imply that support is regrettably anemic.

WHO WILL WIN: Traffic seemingly has this one in the bag. The rest of the pack is bottlenecked in a big, LA Freeway-type jam, miles behind.

WHO SHOULD WIN: The contributions of Crouching Tiger's three screenwriters toward the picture's mesmerizing effect should not be undersold, nor should the degree to which Gaghan's script for Traffic provides, to an even larger extent, the backbone of that nervy, sprawling movie. Still, Steve Kloves' work on Wonder Boys is the only film in this race that never loses track of its characters, is guilty of no scenes that feel extraneous to the movie, and—even more strikingly—contains very few scenes that sum up what the film is "about." The magic and melancholy of Wonder Boys lies in the unexpected way the humble scenes and characters complement one another, and only a pro screenwriter, albeit with top-notch support, can pull off an effect like that.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Not a great year for this category, or for writing in general, though it goes without saying that screenplays which aren't adaptations shouldn't be claiming space in this category, nor should the umpteenth retread of the "Food gives us life!" hypothesis. If left up to me, I'd go for really weird films that would never have flown without the courage (and sometimes the folly) of their kooky, subversive authors: Philip and Belinda Haas' Up at the Villa, Sofia Coppola's unpredictable The Virgin Suicides, or, had it even been eligible, Pola X, the crazed reworking of Melville's Pierre by France's maddest director, Léos Carax, and his co-writers. Slightly more conventional but equally thrilling in its grasp of improbable events was the screenplay of Before Night Falls as cobbled together by Cunningham O'Keefe, director Julian Schnabel, and Arenas' close friend Lázaro Gómez Carriles, who appears as a main character in the picture.

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